Spanish clubs in pole position
© AFP

Marco Senna's spectacular free kick sparked Villarreal to a 1-0 victory over Celtic in their UEFA Champions League clash on Tuesday, while their Spanish rivals Real Madrid chalked up a 2-1 win away to UEFA Cup titleholders Zenit St Petersburg.

While Villarreal trail Manchester United on goal difference in their group, former United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was on the scoresheet in Real's hard-earned win over their Russian opponents, to give Real their best start to a Champions League campaign in five years.

The man that United hope will match van Nistelrooy's scoring exploits, Dimitar Berbatov, scored his first goals for United since his high-profile move from Spurs with a double in their 3-0 win over Danish side Aalborg, coached by former Arsenal boss Bruce Rioch.

Arsenal rebounded from their 2-1 humiliation by Hull on Saturday to thrash former Champions League winners Porto 4-0, with two of the men most criticised for the Hull defeat, Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, scoring a brace apiece.

Italian giants Juventus also had a striker to thank for saving them, as Vincenzo Iaquinta notched up a double as they came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Belarus debutants BATE Borisov.

Senna showed the same sort of form he had done during Spain's triumphant march to the UEFA EURO 2008 title earlier this year. "Getting the three points was the most important thing tonight, but we can't relax, because if you go to sleep in this competition the other teams end up above you," said the Brazilian-born midfielder. "We dominated the second half, but had to wait for the goal. Fortunately my free kick went in."

Celtic coach Gordon Strachan believed that for the most part his side deserved at least a point. "After our performance in the first 55 minutes you think: 'We belong at this level'," said a dejected Strachan.

Suffering
Real were fortunate to come away from Russia with all three points as Senna's fellow EURO 2008 winner Iker Casillas conceded. "In the end, we suffered more than we should have done," said Spain's EURO 2008-winning keeper.

United's comfortable win came at a cost, with Paul Scholes and young Brazilian fullback Rafael (preferred to Wes Brown) picking up injuries, but Berbatov was delighted to have gotten off the mark at last.

"I knew they would come sooner or later, but I'm happy it was today (Tuesday). I helped the team to win and that is the most important thing."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had promised wholsesale changes after the Hull defeat, but in the end he didn't make many, and he was ecstatic at the manner in which his side responded. "It is the response I wanted. Maybe it was our most complete performance this season," Wenger said.

"We could have scored a few more but most important was to win and respond in a convincing way. I didn't make many changes because I didn't want to give a feeling that you punish one player more than another. Sometimes you have to give a team a chance to respond quickly."

For Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri, who was not averse to making frequent changes to his side while in charge of Chelsea, his side's first-half performance against BATE was well summed-up. "It was a nightmare." He will be hoping that does not continue with group leaders Real looming large on their horizon.

In the other games, Fenerbahce were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Dinamo Kiev, Fiorentina failed to find a way past Romanians Steaua Bucharest at home in another scoreless encounter, and Ze Roberto saved Bayern Munich's blushes with a second-half goal to secure the struggling German champions a 1-1 home draw with Lyon.